I've been seeing all the Kusama posters around town. I've been enviously scrolling through the #InfiniteKusama feed on Instagram. I've been hearing that Emily Posthast called Infinity Mirrors "one of the must-see experiences of the summer." I've been studiously following the hot debate about taking selfies. So of course I had to go to SAM on the opening day of the exhibition to see what all the fuss was about.
I am happy to report that the show is just as spectacular as everyone's Instagram makes it out to be. I'm also happy to report that it's infinitely more thoughtful, infinitely more nuanced, and infinitely more infinite than I thought possible.
Before we get to all my art thoughts, though, allow me to answer your burning practical questions.
Can You Even Get Tickets?
Yeah, probably. Advance tickets are no longer available, but you can get a "timed ticket." These tickets are on site, same day situations. You cannot get these online.
So, if you want to go to the show next week, for example you have to walk up to the counter at SAM and purchase a ticket. That ticket will have a time on it. Show up to the exhibition 10 mins before that time later on that day, and then you'll get in. The earlier you get to SAM, the better. Doors open at 10 a.m. Expect a high demand for the first week especially.
SAM will have more numbers on this soon, but they're recording how long each person is spending inside the exhibit so they can figure out how many "timed tickets" they can release each day. A spokesperson told me they're exploring the idea of adding more open hours for the show so they can make more tickets available for purchase online. If they release more, they'll let you know on social media or through their newsletter.
What Are the Lines Like?
There are two or three sets of lines depending on what kind of ticket you have. This morning there was a line outside for people waiting to get into SAM. Depending on the day, this line will be longer or shorter or nonexistent.
There's another line inside to get into the exhibition. You'll be in this line for about 10 minutes no matter who you are. And then, of course, there are lines to get into each of the four infinity rooms. Each of these lines take 5-10 minutes. Note: You go into the rooms three at at time. So if you go, try to bring a crew of three, otherwise you'll have to experience infinity with a stranger.
Expect to spend about 1.5-2 hours at the museum.
Does Waiting In Line Suck?
I don't know, do you suck? Jk.
The lines move pretty quickly. You only get 20 to 30 seconds in each infinity room, which is a rule that comes directly from Kusama herself. I like that. By limiting the viewer's time in the room, she transforms time into a medium under her command. Time as another color in the painter's palette.
And anyway, part of the fun of the exhibition is mingling with other people, talking about infinity, admitting that you think some of the rooms are better than others, and feeling like a kid on a playground again. The anticipation the lines build adds to all the excitement, too.
Is the Art Curated Pretty Well?
We often conceive of infinity as a property of time (and lower-back tattoos), but what Kusama's work shows so spectacularly is that infinity is a property of space, too.
When you walk the white and red-polka dot expanse of Phalli's Field, for example, Einstein's idea of space-time makes so much sense. In the mirrors you can see yourself here and now in the foreground, but also over there and now, and also way out there and now.
Her galactic mirror rooms rely on optical illusions, true, but those illusions give us a glimpse of reality in another concept that's relatively new to physics: the multiverse, a place where a potentially infinite number of parallel universes play out side by side.
Mika Yoshitake fittingly arranges Kusama's works into a narrative and aesthetic loop. When you first walk into the gallery, you see a lot of Kusama's bright, new abstract paintings and sculpture. Then you walk into the room full of all the infinity mirror installations and the chairs covered in soft sculptures that look like yams. Then you walk into The Obliteration Room, where attendants hand you some polka dot stickers to stick all over a white room. You end where Kusuma began in the 1950s: with a bunch of eery, surreal polka dotty / stripy paintings. Here, look:
See what Yoshitake did there? She takes you from the (sort of) 2-D world of painting to the 3-D world of polka-dotted yams crawling out of the frame to the 4-D world of the infinity room installations to the ?-D world of letting viewers create the art in real time. Then you return to the 2-D world of painting and start all over again. Forever.
But those are all the thoughts that came to me while I was walking around the exhibition. The effect of seeing all that bright artwork, of course, is that everyone turns into a giggling, bubbly, excitable child.
To whit: the first thing I saw when I walked into the exhibition was an elderly couple sticking their heads into Love Forever, one of the little infinity mirror rooms you peer into instead of walk around in. I overheard the old man say, "I can see you here, and over there, and over there, too!" The old woman giggled, and the two walked to another installation, but now with a little extra pep in their step.
There's plenty of darkness in Kusama's work, too, though. In Dots Obsession–Love Transformed into Dots, a room otherwise bursting with bright pink and black polka-dotted balloon-like structures, a video recording of Kusama singing a poem about suicide plays on a loop. Her voice haunts the room as she says in Japanese: "I become a stone / Not in time eternal / but in the present that transpires." Her voice haunts the room. It's powerfully sad.
Luckily, at least for the next few days, Seattle's collective unconscious will bring you right out of that rose-colored funk. When I walked into The Obliteration Room, I couldn't help but notice the writing on the walls:
Just before you walk into the room, the attendant tells you NOT to make a pattern with the dots. Since they only give you like 5 or 6 dots, this loopy SEX pattern cannot have been a planned thing. This writing came up naturally. High-five, Seattle. We're all a bunch of pervs. Alas, eventually the dots will be covered up with other dots and the whole room will transform from a white box to a suspended explosion of color.
Speaking of sex:
Oh, and What's the Actual Selfie Policy?